After more than 8 months of waiting, and to the dismay of reformers across the globe, the DEA have finally given their verdict on two petitions to reschedule cannabis in the USA. They’ve decided to leave things as they are, despite all of the evidence.
DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg has defended the decision to continue classifying cannabis as having no medical use, saying: “This decision isn’t based on danger. This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine. And it’s not.”
Coming from the man who once described medical marijuana as “a joke,” this should perhaps not be that much of a surprise. But nonetheless it is still a slap in the face of everyone who supports evidence based policy, because regardless of what Rosenberg claims, there is, and has been for some time, more than enough evidence of cannabis’ medical efficacy to justify rescheduling.
There is little need to go into detail about that evidence here, other than to point out that a full half of US states, plus the District of Columbia, disagree with Rosenberg’s analysis. Obviously that in itself doesn’t mean they are correct, but it’s worth bearing in mind. Polls also show that a majority of Americans want cannabis to be legalised across the board, not just for medical use.
For Rosenberg to ignore both the evidence and the will of the people is indicative of an attitude towards drug policy reform which has ruled for at least 50 years. Those in power, despite their protestations, have no interest in pursuing evidence based policy in this area. President Obama has himself claimed that he does, specifically when talking about cannabis, in previous interviews, and yet his administration has just decided to uphold a status quo which would see his own daughter locked up after she was caught on camera smoking cannabis a few days ago.
Either Obama is happy to see Malia slapped with a criminal record and thrown in jail, or we are about to witness one of the rarest occurrences known to man: a black teen using privilege to beat a drug charge.
What we are hearing from Chuck Rosenberg is essentially just a spin on one of the oldest arguments against medical cannabis that there is – namely, that we need to do more research. It’s a line that has been repeated ad infinitum by countless drug warriors, but which calls for a level of proof that is impossible to attain. It’s akin to anti-vaxxers constantly claiming that more research is needed into vaccine safety. We already have strong evidence. We won’t stop researching just because it’s legal.
But it’s a line that Rosenberg and the DEA seem intent on retreading. As part of the announcement, they attempted to appease campaigners by claiming that they are making it easier to conduct research into cannabis. “As long as folks abide by the rules, and we’re going to regulate that, we want to expand the availability, the variety, the type of marijuana available to legitimate researchers,” Rosenberg said. “If our understanding of the science changes, that could very well drive a new decision.”
This can’t help but sound like an empty promise. Rosenberg has repeatedly shown himself to be an enemy of progress, and is likely to continue trying to sound sympathetic whilst changing nothing of any substance for as long as he remains chief of the DEA. The only option now left for those campaigning for the legalisation of medical marijuana, it would seem, is for Congress to pass a law, and for the President to sign it. This is not going to happen so close to an election, and is unlikely to happen under Hilary Clinton and certainly won’t under Donald Trump. So it looks like it’s back to square one in the USA, for now at least.